- The Washington Times
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ted Lerner watched the raucous, champagne- and beer-spraying celebration from the corner of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, sipping Dom Perignon alongside his wife, Annette.

On the field, he kept his distance as players jumped around and took in roaring cheers. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez couldn’t stand still, but as he bounced around like a caffeinated child, he saw the 86-year-old owner and ran over to pull him into the fracas.

“This is your party,” Gonzalez told him. “This is your party.”

A party much more than six years in the making. Washington’s clinching of the National League East Division title was the culmination of a lifelong goal for Lerner.

He hadn’t dreamt about this night. “No, but I was looking forward to it,” Lerner said.

Lerner turned 8 years old shortly after the Washington Senators lost the 1933 World Series, and he was just 23 when the Homestead Grays advanced to the Negro League World Series in 1948.

Monday night brought more emotions than words could express.

“He’s the happiest I’ve ever seen him except for when his grandchildren were born,” said Mark Lerner, Ted’s son and a principal owner. “He was swelling up into tears.”

Annette Lerner called it a “miracle,” and what her husband and son were able to do since 2006 might be just that in the baseball world.

First they had to win the right to purchase the franchise from Major League Baseball. Then they had to try to validate commissioner Bud Selig’s statement that despite a long process “history will prove it maybe was time well spent” to have the Lerners end up with the Nationals.

“We rebuilt it from scratch,” Mark Lerner said. “There was no farm system, there was nothing there. There was nothing in the major leagues. Not only did we have to rebuild the major league team but we had to rebuild the farm system. That doesn’t happen overnight.”

It happened slowly over the past several seasons, amid much losing. Mark Lerner made it clear that this was his father’s plan.

“It was the vision of my father, who wanted to do it the right way and build it the right way and stayed tough about it,” he said. “And [general manager] Mike Rizzo and his staff, we’ve come the full circle. We couldn’t be happier.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose connection to the franchise predates the Lerners’, saw a night like Monday coming when Nationals Park was built. Mark Lerner knew fans would flock there once his team was a winner, but even he didn’t predict the kind of success attained in 2012.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we’d get this far this year,” he said.

Perhaps that was part of this emotional night for Ted and Mark Lerner. The joy surrounded them wherever they walked, even though that came with some extra effort. Mark Lerner required surgery on his right foot to remove a calcium deposit, affecting him enough that Gonzalez affectionately called him “the pimp with the limp.”

But everyone felt joy for the franchise’s patriarch. 

“Man, I know he wanted this,” Gonzalez said of Ted Lerner. “And to do it in front of him and to know that we’re celebrating this win, all said and done division champs, this is for the Lerner family, this is for Mike Rizzo, this is for the whole D.C. clan.”

For Mark Lerner, the most important thing about the celebration was that his mother and father could see it while they were still healthy.

Ted Lerner certainly didn’t let the opportunity to soak up this moment pass him by.

“It’s been a combination of a lot of people,” he said. “A great organization’s been put together, and we’re delighted they can enjoy it and the city of Washington can enjoy it.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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